How to understand Obama’s Iran diplomacy

How to understand Obama’s Iran diplomacy, Power LineScott Johnson, November 7, 2014

I think the easiest way to understand Obama’s diplomacy is this. Assume that Obama believes Iran should have nuclear weapons and would like to facilitate the mullahs’ nuclear weapons program. This assumption is the Occam’s Razor that clarifies what might otherwise be obscure. The assumption may not be correct, but it should prove a handy guide to coming attractions.

Obama bids against himself chasing after the mullahs. You can say that he doesn’t know how to negotiate, and it’s a plausible hypothesis. As Michael Rubin explains, “Desperation is not a good negotiating position” (unless you want to give it away).

But how explain Obama’s vehement opposition in the past to the imposition of sanctions against Iran by Congress, or the threat of such sanctions in the future in the case no final deal were to be reached?

How explain his concession up front (in the P5+1 interim agreement with Iran) to Iran’s nuclear enrichment?

How explain the offer to agree to an ever increasing number of centrifuges for enrichment?

How explain the apparent acceptance of a prospective deal without proof that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful in nature, which is in itself an absurd and unbelievable proposition?

And so on, and so on.

When Obama makes the famously false promise that he is from the government and he is here to help, he means it in the case of the mullahs.

Today’s page-one story in the Wall Street Journal reveals Obama’s fourth secret letter to the mullahs in search of a deal. He is pleading with them. He will not take no for an answer. See Michael Rubin, “White House ignores Khameni response to letters.”

Obama’s most recent letter is already yesterday’s news. Today’s news comes via the IAEA. Omri Ceren summarizes it as follows in an email message this morning:

The new IAEA report went online about two hours ago. No changes from last time: not only are the Iranians continuing to block the Agency’s work, but they’re refusing to offer new ways of moving forward. Zero progress during the reporting period, and no sign that the next one will be any better.

The report is here The key lines are:

“The Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities”

“Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the Agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures, nor has it proposed any new practical measures in the next step of the Framework for cooperation”

The Iranians seem to be betting that the West will eventually drop the demand that Tehran come clean about the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear program. Negotiations will come down to the wire, all of the other issues will have been massaged, and Iranian negotiators will look up and say the equivalent of ‘you’re not really going to blow up this whole deal over something we did in the past, are you?’ Under that scenario the message will be echoed by a few advocates in the nonproliferation world, the P5+1 will latch on to the reasoning, and that’ll be that.

The problem is that the PMD issue has very little to do with the past and everything to do with future verification. Unless the Iranians disclose what they’ve been doing on the nuclear front – including whatever the military is doing to surreptitiously enrich and store uranium – there’s no way to verify that they’ve stopped doing those things.

Remember how we got here. The P5+1 was supposed to be working with Iran on uranium, plutonium, and ballitsic missiles. Underneath all of those issues, the IAEA was supposed to be working on getting Iran to come clean on the full scope of its program: both the civilian and the military aspects (i.e. the PMDs).

People often talk and write about the PMD issue as if it’s just about weapons work – suspected Iranian experiments with detonators, warheads, etc. Those things matter but the issue is much broader. The IAEA wants access to all the places where the Iranian military had its hand in any atomic work – uranium mining, centrifuge construction, enrichment, and so on. The goal is to get a full picture of everything the Iranians are doing, so that the IAEA can confirm that they’ve stopped.

When the Iranians jam the IAEA up on PMDs, it’s not just another fourth core issue that can be negotiated alongside uranium, plutonium, and ballistic missiles. Transparency is the prerequisite to creating any robust verification scheme on those other three issues. It’s not possible for Western negotiators to say something like: ‘ok, we’ll give you a little on PMDs, but you have to give us something back on centrifuges.’ Without disclosure, there’s no way to verify that the Iranians are actually living up to their half of the trade.

Isn’t this obviously true? That’s where my Occam’s Razor cuts through the fog to help us understand what is happening now and what will in all likelihood be happening soon.

In related news, see Adam Kredo, “Report: Iran nuclear program more advanced than previously believed” and “Pentagon: Iran giving ‘lethal aid to the Taliban’ to fight US.”

UPDATE: Omri Ceren writes to update his message with news of today’s State Department briefing:

The issue came up in today’s State Department press briefing between the AP’s Matt Lee and State spox Jen Psaki. It actually came up twice, with [AP State Department reporter] Matt [Lee] circling back to it….The [short] version is that Jen left open the possibility that the US will take a deal with Iran even if the Iranians continue to obstruct the IAEA, i.e. even if they refuse to come clean on their past nuclear activity including military atomic work. If that happens it would mark another erosion in the US position, alongside reported walkbacks in the other three core areas: uranium, plutonium, and ballistic missiles. More problematically, letting Iran slide on IAEA inspections now risks gutting any verification regime set up later.

It is “problematic,” however, only if your (our) goal is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Explore posts in the same categories: IAEI, Iran, Iranian nukes, Islamic State, Nukes, Obama, P5+1

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3 Comments on “How to understand Obama’s Iran diplomacy”

  1. wingate Says:

    As far as I think, its not about the Iran policy of Mr BHO – the subject is much bigger. By today I think that Mr BHO has been brought illegally to the WH – once there his given task is to destroy the present USA and to fight ( possibly destroy ) Israel. Once this completed, the stage would be ready for the new world order – so far I think the plan of those who sent Mr BHO to the WH. Who are those pulling the strings / the New World order people ? I think they are made up of those people who already run the world today – the tops of economy, politics….If the citizens of the USA cant impeach Mr BHO quickly, then I see the USA becoming a full scale dictatorship soon – Europe will follow afterwards. So I believe the future of the entire western world as we know it is NOW in the hands of the brave american citizens. Therefore I pray they will rise NOW and remove Mr BHO quickly from Office and remove thereby the lethal threat to the USA first, the western world as a whole.

    • Here’s a link to an article at my blog which you might find interesting. I wrote it a couple of days before the recent U.S. elections and offered suggestions as to what Republican majorities in both houses of Congress might be able to do — if we push them hard enough.

      Do read the quotes from Chris Lehane, originator of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” meme. At first, I thought her stuff was satire. But apparently it is not.

      • wingate Says:

        Visited your blog – straight and true talk is always good to read !

        The fact that the subjects we are discussing are so very serious and of such great urgency is almost unbearable – am I just having a bad dream or is this real……!?

        We have to face the facts – something very very bad is on its way for quite a while – with the illegal BHO crew in the WH it just becomes more and more visible – like fog disappearing in the morning…

        ”Never change a winning team !” – when we stand with Israel we
        are part of the winning team for the jewish scriptures do say that the one and only God / the God of Israel will carry Israel through all the coming difficulties.

        DMP – you are a blessed man for blessing Israel ! Be strong and brave and keep on keeping on !

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